Comparing an Open University module with a MOOC

OU - mooc search

At about this time last year, at a cost of just under £2000, I signed up for the Open University module H800, Technology-enhanced learning: practices and debates. This 32 week course involved about 12 hours study a week, and by passing it I would gain 60 credits towards a 180 credit MA in Online and Distance Education.

On 28th January 2013, I start a 5 week course with Coursera, E-learning and Digital Cultures. The course is 3-5 hours a week, and at the end of it I get a certificate but no credits towards anything like an MA. The cost of enrolling was free.

Coursera provide Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs), a concept which has been sweeping through e-learning circles for the last couple of years. In Autumn 2011, Stanford University offered a free online course in Artificial Intelligence which attracted 160,000 students. Since then, a number of providers have sprung up, including edX and Udacity. It seemed strange then that my accredited Open University in Technology-enhanced learning carried very little mention of MOOCs (credit here to my tutor Janet Gray here, one of the few who did mention them in the forums).

Considering the absence of MOOCs on H800 a moment ago,  I entertained a conspiracy theory for a couple of seconds that the venerable Open University might be threatened by the brave new world of free online courses, and was therefore choosing to ignore them. This is starkly not the case – in fact the OU set up OpenLearn, a resource which allows free access to the materials from over 650 OU courses. The problem with my OU module was simply that it wasn’t up-to-date enough for a topic as fast-moving as e-learning. While the course had many strengths, the low point for me was when we were encouraged to join Twitter and Google Reader to explore the potential that micro-blogging and RSS feeds might have for education. Don’t get me wrong, I loved 2008 – but it’s gone now, and times have changed.

Since I’ve yet to try out Coursera, I can’t comment on how it compares to the Open University. Presumably it will be severely lacking in that I will get no attention from a human tutor. And the material covered in 5 weeks will be miniscule compared to a 32 week course. But since it’s free, I have nothing to lose. I’m sure we will be encouraged to blog, so expect some mention of the course here.

Further materials on MOOCs:

Do online courses spell the end for the traditional university? – an Observer article from 11 Nov 2012 which carries a heavy bias towards MOOCs. Sebastian Thrun, who opened up the Stanford AI course and later launched Udacity, is quoted to sound like a religious convert who has seen the light and now has “a mission” rather than a “project”. Criticism in the article is limited to the point that students doing these courses miss out on the social aspect of universities.

A people’s history of MOOCs (29 Nov 2012) Blog post from Inside Higher Ed which makes a neat link between MOOCs and the public library movement in the 19th century.

Below: TED talk from Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller – an excellent introduction to the potential MOOCs offer (free education for all) and some of the challenges they face (assessment and feedback).


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